City police to take aim at loitering at night|[4/20/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2006

In the wake of complaints from business owners and a shooting last week stemming from a fight on a parking lot, Vicksburg police will boost efforts over the next few months to target loitering, Chief Tommy Moffett said.

The crackdown will likely include devoting a pair of plainclothes officers in an unmarked car exclusively to the problem during evening hours, he said.

&#8220Summer is coming on and we plan to be more aggressive in relation to people hanging out,” Moffett said. &#8220I’m going to devote a couple of officers strictly to that…we’re going to do whatever’s necessary to make things better and to stop the kind of foolishness from happening like what happened last weekend.”

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The &#8220foolishness” was a shooting last Saturday that injured four people in the parking lot of McDonald’s on Clay Street. Deon Taylor, 21, 2722 Yerger St.; Ronnie Tolliver, 27, 210 Rancho Road; Tremaine Washington, 20, 4920 Halls Ferry Road; and Eric Wallace, 24, no address available, were taken to River Region Medical Center and later released.

No suspects have been identified in the case, said Capt. Mark Culbertson, head of investigations. Nearly two dozen witnesses reportedly told police they didn’t hear the shots because they were dancing to loud music.

But stepped-up enforcement is also the result of requests from several businesses that have asked the department specifically to watch for people gathering outside, Moffett said.

&#8220We’ve been trying since I got here last February to keep teenagers out of the parking lot,” said Barry Bingham, manager of Fred’s Super Dollar Store on Halls Ferry Road, one of the businesses that wrote a letter to police about loitering on its property. The store hasn’t had any recent burglaries, he said, but one ‘No Loitering’ sign has been torn down, and Horseface Harry’s, a restaurant in the same strip mall, was the victim of an attempted burglary in January. Darrah Williams, 38, 742 Dabney Ave., was charged with that burglary and four others in the same area on Feb. 2.

But most Friday and Saturday nights, Bingham still finds himself calling police to clear people – mostly teenagers, he said – from the parking lot. With summer vacation approaching, those calls could increase during the week.

&#8220They’re leaving beer bottles and glass and trash all over the parking lot,” Bingham said. &#8220If they’re out there in that parking lot later than 8:30 I’m going to call the cops on them.”

Part of the approach, Moffett said, is what’s known in law enforcement as the &#8220Broken Windows” theory, an approach taken by several large cities that targets seemingly minor offenses – broken windows, loitering, graffiti – with the larger goal of cutting burglaries, theft and drug crimes.

&#8220After crowds have dispersed, then you see signs of alcohol, whether it be beer, wine, whiskey, what have you, so we know there are people underage consuming alcohol, and we’re going to be more aggressive about those things,” he said. &#8220The second prong to that is that the more people are drawn to the music, the dancing, the next thing you have is the alcohol. You get those things together and you have disagreements and that escalates into violence.”

The shooting can’t be directly linked to loitering or loud music, said Culbertson, who added that investigators hadn’t identified a clear motive in the case. He did think that catching potential problems early could prevent similar incidents, however.

&#8220Any time you have people out at 2 o’clock in the morning congregating in a certain area, there is a possibility of something occurring,” he said.